How to Handle the “Un-Promoted” Employees

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Businessman in depression with hands on forehead Internal promotions are becoming an increasingly important part of the hiring process because as the talent war rages on, employers are using promotions to plug holes that they cannot fill from the external marketplace. Internal promotions are also helping employers to retain staff by providing career advancement opportunities for ambitious employees who otherwise might have defected to the competition. Research studies show that, in general, internally promoted employees are less expensive and perform better than their externally recruited equivalents.

So, there is lot of good press surrounding promotions, and rightly so, but promotion does have a dark underbelly in that employees that are passed over for promotion will be disappointed. But, this can often turn into jealousy and resentment, which can lead to a drop in engagement in the person(s) passed over. This could lead to them reducing their effort or being uncooperative. A white paper from Wharton Business School  indicates that being passed over for promotion is a frequently cited reason for resigning during exit interviews.

So what steps can be taken to handle the fallout around employees who have been passed over for promotion? I have outlined several steps below.

1. Have a zero-tolerance policy on information ‘leaks’. While politicians may like to communicate confidential and sensitive information according to an organized ‘leaking’ system, leaking, whether deliberate or accidental, is a terrible way to tell employees they have been passed over for promotion. It is likely to make them question the fairness of the process, make them feel disrespected and heighten levels of tension and negative sentiment around the promotion process. Make sure to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on leaking information around the promotion.

2. Have a coordinated communication plan around the promotion. The best way to avoid confusion, burnt egos and distress resulting from mistimed communication is to have a coordinated communication plan around promotion. Inform all parties within as short a space of time as possible. Clearly, tell the successful person first and give him/her a certain amount of time to accept the role, say 24-48 hours. Also, be clear that this job offer information must be kept confidential until you make an email announcement after he or she accepts. Once the position is accepted, bring in the unsuccessful candidates one-by-one to let them know of the promotion. Only when you have done this, should you communicate to the wider organization.

3. Prepare talking points for the unsuccessful applicants who have been passed over for promotion. Meet with each unsuccessful individual and explain the reason(s) they were not selected by showing them all qualifications of the job that they lacked.

Of course, there may be disappointment and anger; give employees the opportunity to communicate their feelings by listening to their frustrations and offering counsel when possible. Allowing them to vent within reason is part of the process.

It’s now time to move on to the coaching/pep talk phase of the discussion, which should start with an ego boost, where you praise them for their contributions and personal strengths. You can look at building a developmental plan, which identifies their weaknesses and gives them the opportunity to improve on these weaknesses so they are more ‘promotion ready’ next time an opportunity emerges. Explain mechanisms and timelines for how and when they can gain access to coaching, mentoring, and training opportunities for future preparation.

By following this approach to communicating to employees who have been passed over for promotion, you may not be able to guarantee instant harmony, but you can give the affected employees the stepping stones and tools to get themselves back on to the fast track — which is the best tonic available.

By Kazim Ladimeji